The skies open for climate aid

Denmark sets a precedent for industrial nations in deciding to assist countries least responsible for global warming.

A dog looks over a wall in front of a house covered in ice near Copenhagen, Denmark, in 2018.

Denmark has broken the ice on a difficult issue in debates over global warming. Yesterday it announced it will start giving money to countries that feel the worst effects of climate change and yet are the least responsible for it. The decision by one of the world’s most industrialized nations could set a precedent for similar countries in acknowledging how their historic use of fossil fuels requires them to lift up less-developed nations.

Copenhagen’s initial pledge is modest – $13 million. That’s compared to an estimated $70 billion needed annually by developing countries for adaptation to climate change. But the recognition of responsibility signals potentially larger funding to help such countries become resilient to adverse weather events, especially if the money is directed toward clean governance and local support.

Danish Development Minister Flemming Møller Mortensen said the move would have a healing effect on “negotiations between rich and poor countries, where the debate about loss and damage for far too long has been full of conflict.”

Since 2013, every United Nations climate summit has officially recognized the need for “loss and damage” compensation. The idea is that wealthier nations should help offset the long-term effects of their carbon emissions. The effects range from damage to homes to damage to ecosystems and culture. 

Putting a number on such compensation has been difficult. A lawsuit in Peru shows why wealthier nations have resisted giving climate aid. A local farmer is suing an energy producer in Germany over the possibility that its emissions helped melt glaciers that resulted in the flooding of his village. Where, richer countries ask, are the boundaries of liability?

Earlier this year, a group of 48 developing countries calling itself the V20 group of vulnerable nations sought to address that concern. It established a fund to both share the burden of climate costs and show that such funding can be fairly and transparently used.

Taking responsibility for the adverse impact of emissions has gained some ground. Scotland and a region in Brussels made modest “loss and damages” pledges at last year’s climate summit in Glasgow. At the U.N. this week, 16 countries, including Germany, agreed to support biodiversity – which helps mitigate climate change and its effects.

“Only through dialogue, cooperation, and sharing of ideas, information, and experiences, we will be able to advance concrete initiatives that can help people, communities, and countries at risk,” wrote A.K. Abdul Momen, Bangladeshi foreign minister; Mr. Mortensen; and Birgitte Qvist-Sørensen, general secretary at DanChurchAid, in Climate Home News. “Our goal is to turn dead-end discussions into cooperation and action helping us all to manage climate induced loss and damage.”

Climate resilience need not mean cycles of helplessness and recovery from weather events. It can mean rejuvenation through economic cooperation and higher standards of governance. Denmark has helped the world take a step in that direction.

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